Here is an exposition of every text of Scripture in which the word hell is found. It is condensed from Food for Thinking Christians, written by Charles T. Russell and first published in 1881.
This is not a rewrite or a paraphrase, but a true condensation in the authors own words as they appear in the original edition, and although only one-third the size, the authors treatise does not suffer from the abridgement. For the convenience of the reader, the texts have been rearranged in Bible sequence.
It is the hope that this booklet will serve as a Bible class textbook as well as a reference in private study by young and old alike.
A correct understanding of the subject of this booklet is almost a necessity to Christian steadfastness. For centuries it has been the teaching of orthodoxy, of all shades, that God, before creating man, had created a great abyss of fire and terrors, capable of containing all the billions of the human family which he purposed to bring into being; that this abyss he had named hell; and that all of the promises and threatenings of the Bible were designed to deter as many as possible (a little flock) from such wrong-doing as would make this awful place their perpetual home.
While glad to see superstitions fall, and truer ideas of the great, and wise, and just, and loving Creator prevail, we are alarmed to notice that the tendency with all who abandon this long-revered doctrine is toward doubt, skepticism, infidelity. Why should this be the case, when the mind is merely being delivered from an errordo you ask? Because Christian people have so long been taught that the foundation of this awful blasphemy against Gods character and government is deep-laid and firmly fixed in the Word of Godthe Bibleand consequently, to whatever degree their belief in hell is shaken, to that extent their faith in the Bible, as the revelation of the true God, is shaken also; so that those who have dropped their belief in a hell, of some kind of endless torment, are often open infidels and scoffers at Gods Word.
Guided by the Lords providence to a realization that the Bible has been slandered, as well as its divine Author, and that, rightly understood, it teaches nothing on this subject derogatory to Gods character nor to an intelligent reason, we have attempted in this booklet to lay bare the Scripture teaching on this subject, that thereby faith in God and his Word may be reestablished, on a better, reasonable foundation. Indeed, it is our opinion that whoever shall hereby find that his false view rested upon human misconceptions and misinterpretations will, at the same time, learn to trust hereafter less to his own and other mens imaginings, and, by faith, to grasp more firmly the Word of God, which is able to make wise unto salvation; and on this mission, under Gods providence, it is sent forth.
In the first place, bear in mind that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. The word hell is an English word sometimes selected by the translators of the English Bible to express the sense of the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek words hades, gehenna, and tartaroo.
The word hell in old English usage simply meant to conceal, to hide, to cover; hence a concealed, hidden, or covered place. In old English literature records may be found of the helling of potatoesputting potatoes into pits; and of the helling of a housecovering or thatching it. The word hell was therefore properly used synonymously with the words grave and pit, to translate the words sheol and hades as signifying the secret or hidden condition of death.
The Hebrew word sheol occurs sixty-five times in the Old Testament. In the King James Version it is translated hell thirty-one times, grave thirty-one times, and pit three times. If the translators of the Revised Version had been thoroughly disentangled from error, they would have done more to help the English student than merely to substitute the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades as they have done. They should have translated the words. But they gave us sheol and hades untranslated, and thus permitted the inference that these words mean the same as the word hell has become perverted to mean. Yet anyone can see that if it was proper to translate the word sheol thirty-one times grave and three times pit, it could not have been improper to so translate it in every other instance.
A peculiarity to be observed in comparing these cases, as we
will do shortly, is that in those texts where the torment idea would
be an absurdity the translators of the King James Version have used
the words grave or pit; while in all other cases they have used the
word hell, and the reader, long schooled in the idea of torment, reads
the word hell and thinks of it as signifying a place of torment, instead
of the grave, the hidden or covered place or condition. For example,
compare Job 14:13 with Psalm 86:13. The former reads, O that
thou wouldst hide me in the grave [sheol],
etc., while the latter reads, Thou hast delivered my soul from
the lowest hell [sheol]. The Hebrew word being
the same in both cases, there is no reason why the same word grave
should not be used in both. But how absurd it would have been for
Job to pray to God to hide him in a hell of eternal torture.
As before noted, the word hell occurs thirty-one times in the Old Testament, and in every instance it is sheol in the Hebrew. It does not mean a lake of fire and brimstone, nor anything at all resembling that thought; not in the slightest degree! Quite the reverse: instead of a place of blazing fire, it is described in the context as a state of darkness (Job 10:21); instead of a place where shrieks and groans are heard, it is described in the context as a place of silence (Psalm 115:17); instead of representing in any sense pain and suffering, or remorse, the context describes it as a place or condition of forgetfulness (Psalm 88:11, 12. There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, in the grave [sheol] whither thou goest (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The meaning of sheol is the hidden state, as applied to mans condition in death, in and beyond which all is hidden, except to the eye of faith; hence, by proper and close association, the word was often used in the sense of gravethe tomb, the hidden place, or place beyond which only those who have the enlightened eye of the understanding can see resurrection, restitution of being. And be it particularly noted that this identical word sheol is translated grave thirty-one times and pit three times in our Common Version by the same translatorsmore times than it is translated hell; and twice where it is translated hell, it seemed so absurd, according to the present accepted meaning of the English word hell, that scholars have felt it necessary to explain in the margin of modern Bibles that it means grave (Isaiah 14:9 and Jonah 2:2). In the latter case, the hidden state, or grave, was the belly of the fish in which Jonah was buried alive, and from which he cried to God.
Deuteronomy 32:22For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn in the lowest hell. [A figurative representation of the destruction, the utter ruin of Israel as a nation wrath to the uttermost, as the apostle called it, Gods anger burning that nation to the lowest deep, as Leeser here translates the word sheol1 Thessalonians 2:16.]
2 Samuel 22:6 (margin)The cords of hell compassed me about. [A figure in which trouble is represented as hastening one to the tomb.]
Job 11:8It [Gods wisdom] is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell [than any pit]; what canst thou know?
Job 26:6Hell [the tomb] is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.
Psalm 9:17The wicked shall be [re]turned into hell [the condition of death], and all the nations that forget God. [That the application of this text belongs to the coming age is evident, for both saints and sinners go into sheol or hades now. This Scripture indicates that in the time when it applies, only the wicked shall go there. In further proof of this, we find that the Hebrew word shub, which in our text is translated turned, signifies turned back, as to a previous place or condition. Those referred to in this text have been either in sheol or liable to enter it, but, being redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, will be brought out of sheol. If then they are wicked, they, and all who forget God, shall be turned back or returned to sheol.]
Psalm 16:10Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. [This refers to our Lords three days in the tomb. Acts 2:31; 3:15]
Psalm 18:5 (margin)The cords of hell compassed me about. [As in 2 Samuel 22:6, trouble is represented as hastening one to the tomb.]
Psalm 55:15Let them go down quick into hell [margin: the grave].
Psalm 86:13Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell [margin: the grave].
Psalm 116:3The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me. [Sickness and trouble are the figurative hands of the grave to grasp us.]
Psalm 139:8If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. [Gods power is unlimited; even over those in the tomb he can and will exert it and bring forth all that are in the graves. John 5:28.]
Proverbs 5:5Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell [i.e., lead to the grave].
Proverbs 7:27Her house is the way to hell [the grave], going down to the chambers of death.
Proverbs 9:18He knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell. [The harlots guests are represented as dead, diseased, or dying, and many of the victims of sensuality are in premature graves from diseases which also hasten their posterity to the tomb.]
Proverbs 15:11Hell and destruction are before the Lord. [Here the grave is associated with destruction and not with a life of torment.]
Proverbs 15:24The path of life [leadeth] upward for the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath. [This illustrates the hope of resurrection from the tomb.]
Proverbs 23:14Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell [i.e., wise correction will save a child from vicious ways which lead to premature death, and may also possibly prepare him to escape the Second Death].
Proverbs 27:20Hell [the grave] and destruction are never full: so the eyes of man are never satisfied.
Isaiah 5:14Therefore hell hath enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure. [Here the grave is a symbol of destruction.]
Isaiah 14:9,15Hell [margin: grave] from beneath is moved for thee, to meet thee at thy coming . . . thou shalt be brought down to hell [the graveso rendered in verse 11].
Isaiah 28:15-18Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell [the grave] are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us, for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: Therefore, saith the Lord . . . Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell [the grave] shall not stand. [God thus declared that the present prevalent idea, by which death and the grave are represented as friends, rather than enemies, shall cease; and men shall learn that death is the wages of sin, and that it comes as a result of Satans power (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 2:14) and not as an angel sent by God.]
Isaiah 57:9And didst debase thyself even unto hell. [Here figurative of deep degradation.]
Ezekiel 31:15-17In the day when he went down to the grave . . . I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit . . . They also went down into hell with him, unto them that be slain with the sword. [Figurative and prophetic description of the fall of Babylon into destruction, silence, the grave.]
Ezekiel 32:21The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him. [A continuation of the same figure, representing Egypts overthrow as a nation to join Babylon in destructionburied.]
Ezekiel 32:27And they shall not lie with the mighty that are fallen of the uncircumcised, which are gone down to hell with their weapons of war: and they have laid their swords under their heads; but their iniquities shall be upon their bones, though they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living. [The grave is the only hell where fallen ones are buried and lie with their weapons of war under their heads.]
Amos 9:2Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them. [A figurative expression; but certainly pits of the earth are the only hells men can dig into.]
Jonah 2:1,2Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord, his God, out of the fishs belly, and said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. [The belly of the fish was for a time his gravesee margin.]
Habakkuk 2:5Who enlargeth his desire as hell [the grave] and as death, and cannot be satisfied.
Genesis 37:35I will go down into the grave unto my son.
Genesis 42:38Then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. [See also the same expression in Genesis 44:29,31. The translators did not like to send Gods servant, Jacob, to hell simply because his sons were evil.]
1 Samuel 2:6The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.
1 Kings 2:6,9Let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace . . . his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.
Job 7:9He that goeth down to the grave.
Job 14:13O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me [resurrect me].
Job 17:13If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. [Job waits for resurrection in the morning.]
Job 21:13; 24:19They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. . . . Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth the grave those which have sinned. [All have sinned, hence death passed upon all men, and all go down to the grave. But all have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ; hence all shall be awakened and come forth in Gods due time in the morningRomans 5:12,18,19.]
Psalm 6:5In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
Psalm 30:3O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. [This passage expresses gratitude for recovery from danger of death.]
Psalm 31:17Let the wicked be ashamed; let them be silent in the grave.
Psalm 49:14,15Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright [the saints, Daniel 7:27] shall have dominion over them in the morning [the Millennial morning]; and their beauty shall consume, the grave being an habitation to every one of them. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave.
Psalm 88:3My life draweth nigh unto the grave.
Psalm 89:48Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?
Psalm 141:7Our bones are scattered at the graves mouth.
Proverbs 1:12Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit [i.e., as of an earthquake, as in Numbers 16:30-33].
Proverbs 30:15,16Four things say not, It is enough: the grave . . .
Ecclesiastes 9:10Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
Song of Solomon 8:6Jealousy is cruel as the grave.
Isaiah 14:11Thy pomp is brought down to the grave.
Isaiah 38:10I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.
Isaiah 38:18The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.
Ezekiel 31:15In the day when he went down to the grave.
Hosea 13:14I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction. Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. [The Lord did not ransom any from a place of fire and torment, for there is no such place; but he did ransom all mankind from the grave, from death, the penalty brought upon all by Adams sin, as this verse declares.]
Numbers 16:30-33If . . . they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand. . . . The ground cleave asunder that was under them: and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.
Job 17:16They shall go down to the bars of the pit [grave], when our rest together is in the dust.
In the New Testament, the Greek word hades corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word sheol. As proof see the quotations of the apostles from the Old Testament in which they render it hades. For instance, Acts 2:27, Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades], is a quotation from Psalm 16:10, Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [sheol].
And in 1 Corinthians 15:54,55, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hades], where is thy victory? is an allusion to Isaiah 25:8, He will swallow up death in victory, and to Hosea 13:14, O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave [sheol], I will be thy destruction.
Matthew 11:23And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell. [In privileges of knowledge and opportunity the city was highly favored, or, figuratively, exalted unto heaven; but because of misuse of Gods favors, it would be debased, or, figuratively, cast down to hades, overthrown, destroyed. It is now so thoroughly buried in oblivion that even the site where it stood is a matter of dispute. Capernaum is certainly destroyed, thrust down to hades.]
Matthew 16:18Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [Although bitter and relentless persecution, even unto death, should afflict the Church during the Gospel Age, it should never prevail to her utter extermination; and eventually, by her resurrection, accomplished by the Lord, the Church will prevail over hadesthe tomb.]
Luke 10:15And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to hell. [Same thought as in the parallel passage, Matthew 11:23]
Luke 16:23In hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments. These words form part of a parablethat of the rich man and Lazarus. To our understanding, the rich man represented the Jewish nation. At the time of the utterance of the parable, and for a long time previous, the Jews had fared sumptuously every daybeing the special recipients of Gods favors. Lazarus represented the outcasts from Divine favor. Although these included publicans and sinners of Israel, in the main they were Gentilesall nations of the world aside from the Israelites. These, at the time of the utterance of this parable, were entirely destitute of those special Divine blessings which Israel enjoyed. They lay at the gate of the rich man. When, as a nation, Israel rejected Christ, the Rich Man soon found himself in a cast-off conditionin tribulation and affliction. In such condition Israel has suffered from that day to this.
In the parable the dissolution of the Jewish polity is well illustrated by the symbol of death, and their dispersal amongst the nations by the symbol of burial. To these symbols our Lord added a third: In hell [hades, the grave] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off.
The dead cannot lift up their eyes, nor see either near or far, nor converse; for it is distinctly stated: There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave; and the dead are described as those who go down into silence (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Psalm 115:17).
But the Lord wished to show that great sufferings or torments would be added to the Jews as a nation after their national dissolution and burial, and that they would plead in vain for release from the hand of the formerly despised Gentiles. And history has borne out this parabolic prophecy.
Acts 2:1,14,22-31And when the day of Pentecost was fully come . . . Peter . . . lifted up his voice, and said . . . Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you . . . being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains [or bands] of death, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it [for the Word of Jehovah had previously declared his resurrection]. For David speaketh concerning him [personating or speaking for him], I [Christ] foresaw the Lord [Jehovah] always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades, the tomb, the state of death], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou [Jehovah] hast made known to me [Christ] the ways of life.
Here our Lord, as personified by the prophet David, expresses his faith in Jehovahs promise of a resurrection and in the full and glorious accomplishment of Jehovahs plan through him, and rejoices in the prospect.
Peter proceeds: Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day [so that this prophecy could not have referred to himself personally; for Davids soul was left in hellhades, the tomb, the state of deathand his flesh, did see corruption]. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he, seeing this before [prophetically], spake of the resurrection of Christ [out of hellhades, the tombto which he must go for our offenses], that his soul was not left in hell [hades, the death state], neither did his flesh see corruption.
Thus Peter presents a strong, logical argument based on the words of the prophet David showing first, that Christ, who was delivered by God for our offenses, went to hell, the grave, the condition of death, destruction (Psalm 16:10); and second, that according to promise he had been delivered from hell, the grave, death, destruction, by a resurrection, a raising up to life; being created again, the same identical being, yet more glorious, and exalted even to the express image of his [the Fathers] person (Hebrews 1:3).
And now that same Jesus (Acts 2:36), in his subsequent revelation to the Church, declares in Revelation 1:18, I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [hades, the grave] and of death.
Amen! Amen! our hearts respond; for in his resurrection we see the glorious outcome of the whole plan of Jehovah, to be accomplished through the power of the Resurrected One, who now holds the keys of the tomb and of death and in due time will release all the prisoners who are, therefore, called the prisoners of hope (Zechariah 9:12; Luke 4:18).
Revelation 6:8And behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. [Symbol of destruction or the grave.]
Revelation 20:13,14And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [the grave] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell [the grave] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
The lake of fire is the symbol of final, everlasting destruction. Death and hell [the grave] go into it. There shall be no more death. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (Revelation 21:4; 1 Corinthians 15:26).
Having examined the word sheol, the only word in the Old Testament rendered
hell, and the word hades, most frequently in the
New Testament rendered hell, we now notice every remaining instance in Scripture of the
English word hell. In the New Testament two other words are rendered hell: namely, gehenna and tartaroo,
which we will consider in the order named.